It's a pilot's life for me: Nordic Air Meet 2012

KALLAX AIR BASE, Sweden -- The sudden sound of an early morning wake-up call blares in the hotel room of Maj. Brian Scott, 480th Fighter Squadron pilot.

It's another typical day for Scott as he reaches over and ends the loud ringing with the push of a button.

He pulls the blinds apart and unsuspecting rays of sunlight immediately fill the room. For Scott, the day's weather had become what he suspected will be the best working conditions for the remainder of his two-week assignment to Nordic Air Meet 2012 in Lulea, Sweden.

The multinational aircraft meet and training exercise includes a total of more than 50 fighter jets from the United States, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Denmark, Finland and Sweden.

For most jobs, weather conditions don't factor into everyday scheduling; however, for Scott, they determine what, where, when and how he can do his job.

After he finishes his brief breakfast, he and a coworker depart for their 7 a.m. weather and air traffic control brief at Kallax AB. The briefing gives Scott and the other flight leads a good idea of what to expect for the remainder of the day.

After leaving the first briefing, Scott and about 20 other pilots gather in another room at what is described as "the round table."

In this room, Scott and the other pilots proceed to plan and map out the mission for the day. On almost any other day, at nearly any other training exercise, mission planning would have been routine, standard or even boring. But on this day, at this location, the planning proves to be quite the opposite due to large-scale aircraft flight operations from multiple nations. Nearly every 45 minutes of the three-hour planning process consists of one or more major change in formation, timing or flight altitude.

"Mission planning for aircraft operations can be compared to football strategy, because if you want to succeed, you have to know the plays before the game," said Scott's coworker Maj. Jason Hrynyk, 480th FS pilot.

Scott and the others finish the mission planning and speed off to lunch. They spend lunch gathering some energy and resting their minds before their next stop at the pilots' final mass briefing.

The mass brief takes an overwhelming amount of previous mission planning and condenses it into a final draft. This draft gives Scott and the other pilots an executable strategic task.

Midway through the brief, Scott delivers the suppression-of-enemy-air-defenses portion in which he informs the other pilots of what his team will be performing and who they will be supporting.

After the mass brief, Scott and his team stop at the squadron's operations desk to get any last-minute weather and airfield status updates before gearing up with the 480th FS aircrew flight equipment technicians.

Finally, after all of the planning, briefing, equipping and other various tasks have been completed, the pilots take their first steps toward their F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft.

Scott approaches his assigned F-16 with the same sense of cautiousness that a professional rodeo rider approaches a bucking bull.

Scott and the aircraft's crew chiefs perform their routine pre-flight functions checks to ensure an exceedingly high level of performance and safety. He walks around the aircraft inspecting the exterior for any issues. The aircraft passes the functions check with flying colors, and it is time to kick off the mission. The aircraft is cleared, and he climbs the ladder and enters the cockpit.

One of the crew chiefs leads Scott's aircraft out of the maintenance formation and honorably salutes him as Scott makes his turn toward the taxi ramp.

Scott parks his roaring metal stallion at the far end of the runway, waiting for clearance from the control tower. The time on the ramp couldn't go any slower, and Scott is excited, aware and anxious all at the same time. Over the radios comes the message that take off is cleared. He glances over to the control tower one last time before he increases throttle to the aircraft.

The aircraft lurches forward and begins accelerating at what feels like an exponential rate. The dotted lines on the runway blur and begin to form a solid line leading toward the watery edge of the runway.

After only a few seconds, the aircraft hits its afterburner, and the once loud and shaking sensory output by the machine becomes a thunderous earthquake that captures the attention of the entire base. Scott begins to lift the front of the aircraft off of the ground with a graceful manner that seemed contradictory to the sound and feel of the scene. He rapidly climbs hundreds of feet in just moments and suddenly becomes one with the seat of which he is now gravitationally attached.

The take off is a success and Scott begins his travels to the meet up with an air refueling KC-135 Stratotanker from the 351st Air Refueling Squadron from Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England. After effectively and swiftly topping up on fuel, he and his formation continued on to the mission area.

Soaring alongside one another at near arm's length, the formation prepares to disable simulated target enemy surface-to-air missiles using their specially designed munitions. The formation then breaks off into twin formations as planned in the mission briefing earlier.

Scott's modified formation flies into simulated enemy air space without hesitation in their attempt to locate targets. Detection signals draw his attention to the targeting systems. The targets have been located, and what happens next is merely a simulation: Targets are locked, and Scott deploys his missile for a direct hit. It is a crippling blow to the enemy air defense system's radar.

After simulating the launch of a full aircraft load of munitions, Scott and his wingman exit the war zone and regroup with their twin formation, flying back to the base.

Usually, the final minutes of flight are filled with retrospect of mission performances and sadness over the flight's conclusion. As Scott comes in for his landing, he breaks off from his formation and begins his descent toward the runway. He gradually drops from the sky and lines up for a safe landing. The few final feet of the landing are tricky, because he must gently touch down without actually being able to view the ground.

Scott and his aircraft make initial contact with the ground, and for nearly the length of a football field, the aircraft and Scott ride along on the rear wheels. The aircraft, once airborne, is now officially grounded.

Scott steers his aircraft off the runway and proceeds victoriously onto the same maintenance ramp he departed from nearly three hours prior.

He reaches his egress point after his aircraft is disarmed and the gallant metal bird is put to rest. The dissipating engine noise winds down slowly while the canopy of the aircraft rises, exposing the face of Scott to the crowd of Airmen awaiting his arrival.

Scott climbs out of the aircraft and almost immediately stretches his cramped muscles. The relieved look on his face shows hints of fatigue, but he is happy to have safely executed his mission. He awaits the remainder of his wingmen then heads back to the briefing room.

The debriefing, taking nearly an hour and a half, ensures Scott and his wingmen get the feedback they desire to improve flying operations in the future.

The debriefing doors open and the pilots flood out with the look of relief, excitement and liberation. They planned and executed their mission goals for the day. They did so with a sense of pride in what they do, which in this case was exchanging tactics and practicing with multiple nations.